Why remove user tracking?

The winds have, and are continuing to shift when it comes to the best practices for protecting the privacy of individuals online. At thoughtbot, we’ve decided to remove individual tracking in an effort to be a good steward of internet privacy. We know that there are many companies that follow our lead, and feel a responsibility to roll back our tracking.

There are essentially three types of analytics/tracking online:

  • No analytics or tracking
  • Aggregated analytics but nothing can be tied back to an individual user
  • Analytics and tracking that can be tied back to an individual user

User experience is getting worse

Beyond privacy stewardship, there are a number of user experience reasons to revisit website tracking.

Last year, Apple added blocking of the 3rd kind of trackers to Safari in iOS and macOS. Now, the latest version of Safari has added a more explicit Privacy badge to the toolbar, which surfaces the individual trackers installed on a website that have been blocked. So in addition to actively blocking this, websites are now potentially shamed to users of Safari.

If you use cookies for identifying users, the GDPR requires you to present a cookie warning and get the consent of people visiting your website. As we all know, the omnipresent cookie pop ups are frustrating and distracting from website experiences.

a tracker warning pops up for thoughtbot.com

Why track visitors at all

thoughtbot used Google Analytics and marketing tools which tracked individual users across our website so that we could see how someone originally found us and what they interacted with if they ended up submitting on our Hire Us form.

It was helpful to see the buyer’s journey of a sales lead. Tracking told us how and when the person first found the site, which blog posts they read, and which service pages or case studies they checked out before filling out the Hire Us form (and converting to a lead).

This is incredibly powerful for helping us identify what is working to attract leads, but especially the deals we’ve won. It also allowed us the option to retarget users who had visited thoughtbot.com’s service pages with thoughtbot ads on other sites.

Reevaluating website tracking options

We only did this on our own properties for leads who contacted us. While this may seem relatively harmless, it’s a practice that is becoming increasingly frowned upon online, is increasingly being blocked and ineffective, and is now highlighted in Safari to the people visiting our site.

Additionally, while we might have the best of intentions and respect for the data we’re collecting, using 3rd-party trackers provided by companies like Google means that we cannot ultimately ensure how the personal data for our customers is used.

We decided that for these reasons, along with our values, that we should reconsider the tracking we do across thoughtbot.com and related properties, with the goals of being able to eliminate our cookie warning, have nothing highlighted in Safari as having been blocked, and generally improve privacy for our visitors.

Choosing tracking that works for us and our visitors

We started by talking through the three types of tracking in the intro and explored what each would look like for us. What were the pros and cons of each for our business operations? Option 2, aggregate analytics that don’t tie back to the user, seems like the best fit for us.

We are able to track how many visits we get to our pages, referral sources, and even track conversions. The things we gave up include the ability to run retargeting ads, track ABM (Account Based Marketing) metrics tied to specific companies, and follow the website journey of specific leads.

While this is useful information, we think it is likely a worthwhile tradeoff to ensure that we’re protecting the privacy of our visitors and not being shamed by our potential customers’ browsers.

We recently removed the Google tracking that was in place on thoughtbot.com and implemented Fathom for our analytics needs. We also removed all other 3rd-party services we were using: Segment.com, Intercom, and Hubspot.

Doing this meant we were able to remove the annoying cookie warning from our website and have no trackers blocked

Pop up shows no trackers for thoughtbot.com

The plan is to check back in on these tracking decisions throughout the year and discuss whether it’s working for us.